There's no denying that triathlons are a pricey pastime. Sure, technically, you only need a pair of shorts, a shirt, shoes, and a bike. But there's no question that a sleek, carbon fiber Cervelo with electronic shifting will take minutes off your time (for $8,000), a floating wetsuit will save your strength ($900), and those light-as-air sunglasses, well, those are just mandatory (you can see why gear geeks love the sport).
For your first triathlon, however, you can don't need to go down the rabbit hole with the finest in high tech equipment. "You could probably do a triathlon off everything borrowed but a pair of running shoes," says Nick Stanko, a triathlete and coach at Virginia-based Peaks Coaching Group. There's a middle ground, though, of worthy, budget-friendly equipment that will go a long way toward building confidence and helping pull in a respectable time for your first race. Here are our picks for getting started without breaking the bank.
Bontrager Race Lite Clip-On Aerobars
While owning a bonafide road bike certainly isn't a triathlon prerequisite – plenty of entrants trudge along on hybrids or mountain bikes – becoming a regular road rider is part of the appeal of the triathlon. There's also no question a road bike is better suited for the job, and when you're going for a short, fast 12 to 25 miles (the difference between a sprint and standard course), aerodynamics make a huge difference.
Those $300 funny-looking helmets may shed some time (often at the cost of a little embarrassment), but the gear that will make the biggest dent in cutting out the wind resistance is a set of aerobars. Look for clip-on bars, like the Bontrager Race Lite Clip-On aerobars that we used, so that they aren't just adding weight for casual weekend rides. Be sure to give them a long test ride if you can – there are a number of different shapes and sizes and they take some getting used to. [$120; bontrager.com]